Fightin’ Thru – Mental Health is worth fighting for

young people in a boxing gym
Image credit: Jonathan Turton, Instagram @jftfilm

For many young men, opening up about mental health can feel daunting, with many feeling restricted by barriers such as stigma or fear. Those who identify as Black or minority ethnic are also more likely to experience racism, poverty and poorer educational outcomes than those who identify as White. These young people are also less likely to seek help through traditional mental health services.

To tackle this, the Institute of Global Health Innovation (IGHI) teamed up with The Mind Map, a Liverpool-based mental health organisation, and Golden Gloves Amateur Boxing Club in Toxteth, Liverpool, to form Fightin’ Thru. Fightin’ Thru is a boxing-themed campaign using innovative, creative and non-traditional mediums to raise awareness and encourage opening up about mental health in minoritised young men. We sat down with Ste Turton, a journalist for The Mind Map, and Badra Toure, a young boxer at Golden Gloves, to discuss the project.

Research conducted by Dr Lindsay Dewa, Advanced Research Fellow in Mental Health at IGHI highlighted that young men, particularly those who identify as Black or minority ethnic, were a vulnerable group when it came to mental health difficulties. Based upon these findings, Lindsay, and Ste, who had worked together previously, wanted to run an awareness project involving the young people who live in these communities, with Ste suggesting boxing as the focus. They received funding from The National Lottery Community Fund to run the new project.

30% of 16–24-year-olds experienced ‘poor mental health’ in 2020
(cCopeY, Imperial College London)


The project started in 2020, with posters placed in the Golden Gloves to recruit three young men aged 16-18 as the gym’s main collaborators. After an overwhelmingly positive application response, Badra, along with Mahbub (Mabz) Rahman, Jay Bushell and later addition Rio Clay Pierre, were selected as stand-out candidates to be paid for their work in planning and running sessions. They were joined by Head Coach Wayne Smith and the gym’s highest-ranked professional Marcel Braithwaite on brainstorming sessions. Pre-pandemic visions for the project included a fight night and interviews with high-profile boxers to break down the stigma surrounding mental health. However, when the COVID-19 pandemic and national lockdowns hit, plans were turned on their head, at a time when the need for mental health support due to the strains of the pandemic were only increasing.

COVID-19 moved the conversations from the boxing gym to Zoom. But despite the project going virtual, the regular calls offered a valuable touch point for those involved, with Badra saying that the group enabled him to connect with the other young men involved in the project at a time where in-person connections were not possible.

Throughout the pandemic, Fightin’ Thru provided free counselling for the young boxing club members, alongside online workshops and coaching sessions covering topics such as sleep, motivation, and resilience. Coaches at the Golden Gloves also attended Mental Health First Aid courses, run by The Mind Map, to learn how to spot the signs and symptoms of mental ill health and support the young people in a non-judgmental way.

The project also highlighted influential boxers who openly spoke about their experiences of mental health, demonstrating a broader shift in the perceptions of mental health and sport. In our conversation, Ste told us he had been moved by one of the sport’s bright young fighters Ryan Garcia talking openly about his personal battles. Following the biggest win of his career in 2021, Garcia suffered severe lows, which he discussed publicly in an attempt to improve the conversation between young men around mental health.

“Everything came crashing down on me. I was lost in my head; it was like being in a maze and I didn’t know where to go.”

“I now have people telling me that by opening up, I’d saved their lives. That right there is worth all the pain I went through. If a kid got out of a dark place because of my story, that’s worth more than I could ever do in the ring.”

As well as Instagram live sessions with sport psychologist Phil Steele and European Champion Zelfa Barrett, The Fightin Thru’ team produced a short film last year, featuring many of the young people involved in the project. Ste said:

“The film shows how diverse the Golden Gloves is, the great community work going on, and the great platform it can be to get the message of good mental health across to young men, from all walks of life and all communities.”

Badra hopes that the project has given people who are struggling a place to go. Badra said:

“I’ve never really heard about people discussing [mental health] in my groups. Projects like Fightin’ Thru help break down this stigma because it’s a space where you can talk to others, and where people will listen and give you advice.”

Ste and Badra hope the project has demonstrated how important boxing and community centres are to keep young people occupied, by giving them a place, a platform, and discipline. Lindsay hopes this is the start of using different and creative medias to increase awareness of the importance of good mental health in minoritised groups.

You can follow the project on Instagram @Fightinthru, which celebrates members of their community, teaching the young boxers that good mental health is as important as their physical fitness, and encouraging them to seek help when needed.


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